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Iran’s missile strike: A loud warning shot and an offer to de-escalate, sources say

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WASHINGTON – Iran may have intentionally missed targets on bases in Iraq to avoid significant U.S. casualties and damage to infrastructure, according to U.S. government sources.

Iran appears to have fired the missiles into vacant areas where they were unlikely to cause significant harm, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The attack, the official said, was designed mainly for a domestic audience to show Iranians that the regime was responding to the killing last week of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

The missile’s impact caused no caused casualties and limited damage, the source said. The potential for mass casualties from an attack was real: More than 1,500 troops are housed at the two bases in western and northern Iraq.

In September, precision drone and missile strikes by Iranian-backed forces severely damaged oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia, supporting the belief that Iran has the capability to strike targets with lethal force. That attack slashed Saudi oil production by destroying infrastructure. The weapons used were Iranian, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and constituted an act of war. 

The state-run Iran Press news agency showed footage Jan. 8 of what it said were rockets launched from the Islamic republic against the military base al Assad in Iraq.

Tuesday’s attack did not kill or wound any U.S. troops, President Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday in a live address to the nation. He described the damage done by the missiles as “minimal.”

Iran, Trump said, “appears to be standing down.”

The strike Tuesday could have functioned as a very loud warning shot and may be an indication that the regime wants to limit escalation, said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. The opening may be short-lived, he said. 

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